There was a time when Laramie was nationally-known as a bicycle-friendly town.
“Our streets were even known to be among the best maintained in the Rocky Mountains for cycling” says Dewey Gallegos, co-owner of the Pedal House of Laramie.
Much was due to the influence of two pioneer Laramie men, bicycle and inventor Elmer Lovejoy, and surveyor Willy Owen (who made one of the first bicycle tours through Yellowstone Park in 1883).
Both Owen and Lovejoy were members of the Laramie Bicycle Club, organized in 1882. It was self-described as the “oldest club in the Rocky Mountains” as seen in their banner pictured below.
“According to Susan B. Anthony, the bicycle craze did more to emancipate women than anything else”, says Gallegos. The impossibility of wearing skirts while riding astride a bicycle brought new garments that gave cycling women much more independence than before. Both Gallegos and his wife Jessica Flock (bike shop co-owner) pointed out many women who appear in pre-1900 bicycling photos.
Their presentation “Wheels through Wyoming; Chronicles of Bicycling in the Equality State” was presented recently to the Albany County Historical Society with funding provided by the Wyoming Humanities Council.
According to Gallegos and Flock, the first bicycles were the Laufmaschine or hobby horse. They were adult balance bikes nicknamed “running bicycles.” The operator stood astride a bar that connected two fixed wheels. There were no pedals; the “rider” actually ran with both feet on the ground but could sit and coast for a bit on this all-wooden English invention c. 1818.
Then came Velocipedes in 1868; they had the innovation of pedals on the very large front wheel. These were also known as “bone-shakers” and in England as the “penny-farthing”. Their high front wheel improved speed; a small back one added stability. They did have a tendency to toss the rider over the front wheel when the bike came to a sudden stop or hit a bump.
British-born Thomas Stevens (1854-1936) became the first person to circle the globe (1884-6) using a high-wheel bicycle. Starting in San Francisco, he rode (or walked, pushing his bike) on a route that passed through Laramie. He was met by the Laramie cycling club, and recounted his enthusiastic reception here when he later spoke and wrote about his adventure.
Elmer Lovejoy owned and operated a bicycle shop in Laramie at the NW corner of S. Second St. and Custer. He built Laramie’s first tandem bike at about the same time he was inventing an automobile. The side of his original auto dealership now sports the familiar hollyhock mural, and his bike repair shop (now demolished) was located where the parking lot in front of the mural is today.
Lovejoy sold “Crescent” brand bikes from a Chicago manufacturer. Crescents had front and back wheels of the same size; called “safety bikes” as they didn’t pitch the rider forward like the high-wheel bikes tended to do.
In 1896, Lt. James Moss, stationed at Ft. Missoula, Montana proposed to the military the idea of a bicycle corps. He was convinced the bicycle would cost less than horses. Thus, the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps was created. They rode through Yellowstone and eventually from Missoula to St. Louis in 1897, though the Corps was disbanded soon after.
Over the years there have been many improvements for bicycles including; brakes, gears, derailleurs, safety helmets and light weight metals. Recent innovations, cited by Gallegos and Flock, are “Fat Bikes”, with a 3.8 to 4.8 inch-wide tire for optimal use on snow and sand. Currently, there are numerous road, cyclocross and mountain biking events held all over Wyoming.
By Judy Knight
Caption: A March 7, 1885 meeting of the Laramie Bicycle Club shows club members posing, though the location is unrecorded. There are at least eight cyclists in the picture, four are women. The large auditorium where they met may be Chauncey Root’s Opera House on the east side of 3rd Street between Grand and Ivinson (now demolished). Photo from the Elmer F. Lovejoy Collection, courtesy of the UW American Heritage Center